Opening prayer collects and unites supplications of assembly

By Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

October 30, 2002

As we’ve seen over the past few past weeks, every word and gesture has meaning in the celebration of the Mass.  The Liturgy’s “Introductory Rites” are no exception, and we can easily see why.

The opening procession of the Mass points us toward the altar, which symbolizes Christ.  When the priest and deacon arrive at the altar, they kiss it, and the Book of the Gospels may be placed upon it.  The priest goes to his chair, which expresses his authority as teacher and presider, since he represents Christ.  His first gesture at the chair is to make the sign of the cross.  The sign of the cross, after the kiss of the altar, frames the Eucharistic sacrifice.  By the words and gesture, we acknowledge that we’ve been incorporated into the Trinity’s life through the saving waters of Baptism, given to us through the mystery of Christ’s cross.  As we sign ourselves, we recognize that our celebration of the Eucharistic meal could not occur without Jesus’ death on the cross.

 

 

In a gesture of liturgical welcome, the celebrant greets the people, and the assembly responds as the celebration begins.  This first dialogue of the Mass expresses the mystery of the gathered Church.  No Eucharistic celebration can occur without the presence of the total Christ: the Head and the Body, Bridegroom and Bride.  The celebrant or deacon may then, in a few words, describe the Mass of the day (General Instruction ion the Roman Missal, 50).

Before we move deeper into worship, we now admit our sins and our need for God’s mercy in the Penitential Rite. We ask the faithful already in heaven and our brothers and sisters around us to pray for us – and we’ll hear our neighbors asking the same for themselves. The Roman Missal permits several versions of this confession of sins, which may include the Kyrie, or “Lord have mercy”.  If not included in this confession, the Kyrie follows separately.  An ancient part of the Liturgy, the Kyrie harks back to when Greek was the prevalent language of the Roman Church. It’s a kind of profession of faith.  In the Kyrie, we call on God’s mercy because we believe He will be merciful to us. And as we call on Him, we begin to rise above the somber thoughts of our weakness.

The priest completes the Penitential Rite with words of absolution. Of course, this is not sacramental absolution, and it doesn’t forgive serious sin.  While many Catholics make the sign of the cross in response at this point, the correct gesture during the Confiteor is to strike our breast when we say “...through my own fault”.  By this, we further prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.  Note too that the Penitential Rite may be substituted with a sprinkling rite, especially during the Easter season, to remind us of the gift of our baptism.

During Mass on feasts, solemnities and Sundays (outside of Lent and Advent), we next joyously sing or recite the Gloria.  This is another very ancient hymn that should always stand on its own, never simply accompanying another part of the Mass.  Notice too the scriptural character of the text.  Therefore, the words of the Gloria – as the Roman Missal points out -- should never be replaced. The Introductory Rites continuously lead us forward as we give praise to God in preparation for an encounter with the Lord in the Sacrifice of the Mass.

The Introductory Rites conclude in the Opening Prayer or the “Collect” which the celebrant may sing on special days.  The priest invites us with the words: “Let us pray.”  In that moment of silence we gather our intentions for this celebration and place them before the Lord. The Opening Prayer is meant to “collect” the prayers of all those assembled and unite them in the mystery of the liturgical year that will unfold before us in the Mass. 

Still standing through the entire Introductory Rites, the assembly should conclude the celebrant’s prayer with a heartfelt “Amen”.  The assembly has taken the prayer as its own, and is now ready to go out even further “into the deep” as the Liturgy of the Word begins to unfold.

The archbishop’s reflections on the Liturgy will continue next week.